Fiber Optic vs. DSL Internet: How they work plus pros and cons

When shopping Internet options for your home or business, you’ve likely come across a few network types. The most common are fiber optics, cable, DSL and satellite. Each network type is different in the way they transfer data, and each offer their own unique advantages.

This article will explain the differences between fiber optic Internet and DSL, as well as highlight the pros and cons of both connection types.

What is fiber-optics?fiber

Fiber optic Internet is an Internet connection that transfers data fully or partially via fiber optic cables. “Fiber” refers to
the thin glass wires inside the larger protective cable. “Optic” refers to the way the type of data transferred – light signals.

So, an Internet connection using fiber optic cables is an Internet connection in which data is delivered in light signals via small, flexible glass wires.

Think about the speed of light. Your fiber-optic connection won’t deliver data quite that fast because the signal bounces around the wire many times on the way to its destination, but it is still very fast.

dslWhat is DSL?

DSL is an Internet connection delivered via telephone lines. The abbreviation stands for “Direct Subscriber Line.”

Remember the good ol’ days when Internet via the phone line created the lovely dial-up tones and held the phone line hostage the entire time you were connected? DSL separates Internet frequencies from your telephone, enabling users to be online and use the phone simultaneously.

Telephone lines are made mostly of copper. While copper is an ideal conductor, data cannot travel as quickly via telephone lines as it can with fiber optic systems, which leads us to the pros and cons of the two.

Pros and cons: Speed and reliability

You can probably guess that fiber-optics wins on speed, but by how much? A pretty large margin, actually. Fiber optic networks can deliver speeds up to 1 Gpbs (1000 Mbps), whereas DSL speeds typically top out around 6 Mbps. For more on Mbps and what that means, check out this FAQ article on Mbps. Even without knowing much about Mbps and how they reflect Internet speeds, it’s easy to see fiber optics can be much, much faster.

The speeds that fiber optics can deliver are ideal for virtually anything you do online, including:

  • Downloading music and videos
  • Streaming TV and movies
  • Playing real-time multiplayer games online
  • Connecting many devices, such as computers, mobile devices, smart TVs, at once


While higher DSL speeds can perform some of those tasks, albeit slower than fiber optics can, DSL connections are more ideal for basic online activities, such as:

  • Browsing the Web
  • Sending and receiving emails
  • Sending and receiving pictures
  • Downloading e-books


Fiber optic Internet is also typically more reliable than DSL. There are a number of factors that can interfere with DSL connection and speed, including power outages, proximity to power lines and distance from the Internet Service Provider. Fiber optic Internet does not rely on electricity, so power outages and proximity to powerful electrical equipment will run little to no interference on your connection.

Bottom line: Fiber optics wins over DSL on speed and reliability.


Pros and cons: Pricing and availabilityfiber-optics

Given that fiber optic Internet is much faster and more reliable than DSL, it’s understandable that fiber optics is going to cost more. But how much more? Price varies by competitor, but choosing fiber optic over DSL won’t set you back that much more a month.

However, DSL is almost always going to be the more economical option because it uses existing technology and infrastructure (telephone lines). If you need an Internet connection more for surfing the web and sending emails than streaming TV and gaming online, DSL is your most cost-effective choice.

Price is certainly something to consider when deciding between fiber optics and DSL, but so is availability.

For a region to have access to fiber optic Internet, they must have the fiber optic cables installed. This limits the availability of fiber optic Internet to very specific areas, usually densely-populated urban areas because the new system has the potential to serve more people.

Since DSL relies on telephone wires, which are pretty much everywhere, DSL is far more readily available. Consequently, more people will find DSL options and not fiber optics because the technology for fiber is not yet supported in their region.

Bottom line: DSL beats fiber optics in price, but not necessarily in value because fiber optics offers a faster, more reliable connection for a somewhat comparable price. But in availability the comparison isn’t even close – DSL is currently available in far more areas than fiber optics.


Now that you know the major differences between fiber optic Internet and DSL, you can decide which is best for your home or business!